May 21, 2005

Fabulous at 25

Still Striking a Pose By Guy Trebay

SELVIN KOOL-AID GIVENCHY was stalking the runway, letting fly his hands and his wild invective. "Work it, girls! Serve it like a legend!" said Mr. Givenchy, who is something of an underground legend himself, what with his Moms Mabley mug, his colossally oversize sweatshirt and a mouth that would make that raunchy comedian's seem snowflake pure. "Remember," Mr. Givenchy commanded the ladies, although ladies was not the word he employed. "I am in charge of the girls!"

The girls were not girls, of course, and the boys not boys. The runway was a makeshift theater on which, over the course of a long evening, the girls and the boys would stomp and pose and parade and dance attired in zoot suits or chiffon dresses or else very little at all. The gathering was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the New York-based House of Ultra-Omni, one of the last of the original drag queen houses whose balls proliferated in the 1980's, then faded from memory and, seemingly, disappeared.

Whatever vague awareness most Americans may have of this bygone scene probably comes from Madonna's "Vogue," the influential 1990 hit that was either an act of homage to the underground that inspired it or one of creative larceny. A fuller introduction was provided by "Paris Is Burning," Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary, a remarkably clear-eyed appraisal of the epoch and the quirky "legends" who gave it birth.

No one can say for sure when or how voguing seemed to vanish, and with it the houses that brought it into the world. Those houses constituted groups of gay men organized and run by "mothers" and "fathers," populated by "children" and named for fashion designers no one involved had ever met. Then and now, even people who were in on the scene might have been forgiven for assuming that its practitioners had moved on in the decade after "Vogue" and "Paris Is Burning," or, as likely, were now dead.

Get an even greater account of the Ball scene from Frank Leon Robert's blog Brooklyn Boy Blues where he has a preview of Paris is Still Burning, an article for FlavaMen magazine.

Note to self: get the damn!!

Posted by ronn at May 21, 2005 11:50 PM

And thanks for this wonderful plug! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece, and I hope to maybe see you on the runway of the next function! *never say never! Frank Leon Roberts Posted by: Frank Leon Roberts on May 26, 2005 06:33 AM
Me on the runway?! Puh-leeze! I would scuuur the chil'ren away. *smile* Posted by: ronn [TypeKey Profile Page] on May 26, 2005 09:08 AM